LA MESA – Storm clouds continue to gather over the City of La Mesa finances as sales tax revenues and state budget woes threaten city services here and throughout California. At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, no specific cuts were made, but a close reading of a few key agenda items and a bit of interpretation gives a clear sense of where local leaders are going to be looking to remedy financial woes.
Mayor Art Madrid asked city staff to begin studying a number of cost cutting proposals, including consolidation of police dispatch services with other police agencies and asked whether the city can reduce future pension obligations by creating a “two tier’’ system in which new employees will be offered less lucrative packages than were granted current employees. Both those proposals tread closely to dangerous third rails of local politics – police services and union benefits. Still Madrid stopped short of discussing full police consolidation proposals as the city is pursuing with fire services and acknowledged that developing new benefit programs may require protracted bargaining with city unions.
“We are a small city,’’ Madrid said. “We don’t print money. We have to live with what we have and these days, things are getting more than tight.’’
The council did reject, by a 3-2 vote, a proposal by Councilman Ernest Ewin to require a longer period for public comment on agreements between the council and the city’s unions during upcoming contract negotiations.
Some residents had complained that too much of the negotiation process happens behind closed doors and then is quickly rushed onto the council agenda and approved without enough public input. Madrid joined Ewin in supporting a longer public comment period, but the majority supported the status quo, pointing out that much of the negotiation process is executed with the council members representing the public interest. The ability to change any agreement after a memorandum of understanding is reached between the council and the unions is limited, regardless of the public comment the agreement may engender.
On a lighter issue, the council voted 5-0 to give at least a temporary reprieve for the planters that line the sidewalks of downtown’s La Mesa Boulevard.
The city’s Parking Commission had recommended removing the planters because the La Mesa Village Merchants’ Association had reneged on a long-held agreement to maintain the 44 concrete pots. Citing financial challenges, the association had discontinued paying a gardener to maintain the planters and had asked the Parking Commission to use parking funds to pay for the service.
However, in the time since the proposal to remove the planters was made, merchants and city officials say many of the derelict planters had sprung to life.
No one knew whether to credit the recent rains or increased volunteering by the downtown merchants, but all agreed the planters haven’t looked this good in years. The council agreed to leave the planters as long as they are continuing to be maintained. Eventually, the planters will be replaced during a planned renovation of the downtown commercial corridor over the next 12 to 24 months, city staff said.